Passage 22, Mallaig to Loch Sunart

I left Mallaig at 9am, Monday 30th June, having spent the previous afternoon trudging back and forth between marina and town to make calls and get wifi, principally in order to sort out my rusted auto pilot. I arranged a delivery to Tobermory which should come latest Friday, so I can’t go far until then. Still, today there was promise of strongish winds in a feasible direction as opposed to vague winds in unspecified directions for the following days threatening my ability to make much progress. So today’s job was to get down into the vicinity of Tobermory.

I had a quick chat, before leaving, with the guys who’d shamefully motored down from Kyle of Lochalsh when I’d sailed all the way. I asked them if they were going out. “Not likely”, they said, “wind far too strong for us”. Hmmm.

Boom frenzy

So I was soon beating down the Sound of Sleat in a lively force 5. A couple of hours on and the wind seemed to abate as per the forecast so I put up full sail (I was double reefed, as usual) and continued on my way. Then the wind got stronger again! As I reduced sail again the boom flung out in an uncontrolled frenzy. The shackle holding the sheet (rope) to the boom had broken away. Down came the mainsail and I tied the boom straight with some rope. Before I went off to get another shackle I had a quick look around to see if it was lying in the cockpit. Well, shiver me timbers, there it was on the seat. What about the little screw pin? On the cockpit floor. How fortuitous neither were flung into the sea. I could then immediately reattach my sheets, raise the mainsail and I was back in the room.

RIP, autopilot

All these operations were carried out using my rusted autopilot that seemed to be working fine. My next job was to apply suncream as the clouds had cleared and the sun was blazing. The wind was unbelievably warm by contrast to yesterday; well, to every previous day actually. On went the autopilot so I could nip down and get the bottle. It jammed. And that, I think, is the final nail in the coffin for my poor old autopilot. I’d have to do without it for the rest of the trip.

Strong winds and Gale

By the time I was approaching Ardmanurchan Point (quite a mouthful), the wind had got even stronger, now a force 6. The sea had also got significantly rougher and there was a swell coming in from the atlantic as there were no longer any islands to protect this area. So the going got tougher. And the tide was now against me.

I had to round Ardmanurchan point and get into the Sound of Mull. The sun had gone, the wind was strong, and the tide was … long? Anyway, this was now tough sailing. Rather slow progress was made with a series of tacks. At one point I gave in to a little frustration and fired the motor up with the intention of making a more direct approach. Useless; the wind and sea were such that my max speed was 2 knots motoring into it! Off with the motor then. Sailing was my best option.

I made it in but as I was approaching Loch Sunart the wind got STRONGER. I took down all sails and started to motor the last 5 miles. It was now a full on gale. It was a wet and windy approach! The only consolation was that I was in relatively protected waters of the Sound of Mull and so the sea was not as rough as outside. Once I got into Loch Drumbuie (a sub-Loch at the mouth of Loch Sunart) it was all calm and quiet with no evidence that I’d just suffered a gale outside. In truth I think the gale had ceased and this loch is very protected. A fellow sailor later reported to me that he had measured over 40 knots of wind (F8/9 gale) and he had his own problems - foresail ripping and boom flying away.

It was 7:15pm (my ETA was 5pm) as I set the anchor and I tidied everything up and dragged my sopping stuff out of the front cabin as my leaky boat had gotten it all wet. Egg and rice at 8pm followed by calm reflection watching the beautiful surroundings as the sun went down. Tough sail, never easy.

I also experienced two further problems that will need investigation. First, my starboard winch slipped a few times - something wrong with it. Second, my roller reefing on the foresail seems to not wind correctly - I had to leave some foresail out flapping in the gale. So more problems keep popping up. Very frustrating.


Left Mallaig at 9am and sailed 39 of the 45 miles constantly beating against the wind (just like yesterday). Winds got stronger instead of forecast reduction and I had a gale in the Sound of Mull. A taxing sail, but it was warm and sunny half the time. Good times.

Lessons learned

Check shackles and rigging periodically

Passage 23, Loch Sunart to Tobermory